Friday, July 29, 2011

Financial Abuse of the Elderly - Part 3 - THE DONATION DEBATE


 Now we’re moving from financial abuse of the elderly in the home to abuse and exploitation coming from outside sources.  It will take a few posts to just get the highlights of this complex issue out, so I highly encourage you to dig deeper, especially if you feel you or a loved one is at risk.

The Donation Debate

Junk mail often brings validation to the aging
One thing that makes the elderly a more ready target for financial exploitation is that they want to be useful and helpful. Whether it’s by mail or phone, solicitations from legitimate and non-legitimate organizations claiming to need help gives a senior’s self esteem a boost. Perhaps they’ve been incapacitated and can no longer participate actively in service to others but hey, they have a little money, why not help? Some feel that giving to others financially is the only way to contribute to society and they feel a weight of responsibility to do so. Telemarkers and Scammers know this well. 

Add to this the fact that many seniors have hearing and visual impairments. The small print isn’t visible and the ‘small print’disclaimers offered by phone callers are said so fast that even those without hearing problems have trouble understanding all that was said.  
             
If you’re the caregiver and you feel that your loved one is at risk for such, talk with him/her about donation boundaries. Ask your caree to set up a limited amount for yearly donations to outside charities and keep a log of what was given and when. This can be done to track donations for end-of year deductions, and even if your senior does not itemize, this often seems a reasonable request. If multiple request for payment come in, then you’ll spot them and have the evidence to share with your loved one.

            At one point, my father received multiple ‘bills’ for a donation he’d committed to over the phone. Tracking payments became difficult for him and when we realized he’d ‘paid’ his donation three times in one year, we knew something had to be done. He realized then that the organization was not as reputable as he’d thought and he stopped giving to them.

Caregivers struggle with the fact that for many seniors, the mail is sacred. For some, it’s their only link to the outside world. Mail from anyone on the ‘outside’ of their shrinking world feels like a validation of their importance. Some caregivers will try to be the ones to sort through the mail before their carees so that junk mail and unwanted solicitations for donations could be disgarded, before ever reaching the hands of their caree. But often this is impossible or a point of contention for caregivers and carees. Asking for limits and to be allowed to help can relieve tension.
  •  Ask your caree to put all donation requests in a single pile or basket that you help him/her go through once a month. While you or s/he makes the decisions and writes the checks or has you write them, put them in the donation log.
  • When calls are made asking for phone donations, ask your caree to tell the caller that either 1) s/he handles all donations through church, or 2) I only give to organizations willing to mail information.  If a caller don’t want to mail you a request or more information, it’s likely they just wanted to get you to give them your credit card number. Don't 'buy' that they want to save mailing costs... they're paying for people to make those phone calls! 
  •  To limit the number of solicitations coming in, make sure your loved one is on the national DO NOT CALL registry.  This limits phone calls both for soliciting donations and sales.  Make sure that both home and cell numbers are placed on the list.  http://www.donotcall.gov/
  •  You can also limit the amount of ‘junk’ mail and donation solicitations coming in the mail by at  http://www.directmail.com/directory/mail_preference/faq.aspx  to get information about how to get your name and address removed from many direct mail lists.
  •  The Direct Marking Association also provides this information for consumers who wish to be taken off mailing lists. When you register, your name and address are placed in a "do not mail" file which is updated monthly. DMA members are required to update their lists at least quarterly, and some do it monthly. Businesses who are not members of the DMA may also take advantage of this "do not mail" list, so registering with the DMA will reduce much of your junk mail. Register online. You may also sign up online at the DMA's website. There is no fee for online  registration. Visit:: https://www.dmachoice.org/dma/member/regist.action DMA says this option is quicker than by postal mail.

Register for the Mail Preference Service by mail. Send a letter plus a $1 check or money order to:
Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
Click here for their simple mail-in form, www.privacyrights.org/Letters/jm1a.htm.

Caregiver's Golden Nugget:  These resources can work for you too and help you clear out your mail box and stop getting unwanted sales calls! 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Financial Abuse of the Aging - Part 2


Do hired caregivers have access?
Just after bringing up the topic of financial abuse of elders, a front page story of my local newspaper featured the arrest of a paid caregiver who had stolen thousands of dollars from her caree by writing checks and using a debit card from her caree’s account.  The caregiver was hired from a very reputable company to provide in-home care while the caree was living in a senior residential community. 

Last week I didn’t touch much on the hired caregivers, but focused on the home front. However, often strangers we hope to become trusted helpers become part of the home environment. When hiring caregivers from agencies or from word-of-mouth referrals, ask for references and check them out. Take the time.  

The amount of employee screening varies between agencies, so when hiring a caregiver using a company, ask how they screen and check their employees. Find out what their policies are if an employee is found to be defrauding a caree and check liability. A background check done at the time employment is made doesn’t keep that person from becoming a first time offender if the right opportunity arises, so it is important to be proactive. If you are hiring privately, do your own background check. 

Some family members are so relieved to find an agency to help; they feel they will ‘hurt the feelings’ of the staff by asking about such policies. Always remember that if you are hiring a caregiver, he or she is your employee. If you’re going through an agency, that agency is your employee. Remember that for agencies and private duty caregivers, this is a business. Treat it as such.

Often, in the rush to find help for in-home care after a hospitalization or other emergency, family members are just relieved to find someone to help and don’t take time to ask important questions. That’s just when the door for potential abusers is opened.

When family members live far away from their aging loved ones, having a debit or other card accessible to a caregiver may be a necessity.  If so, consider the following:

  • Have a contract drawn up that the caregiver(s) signs acknowledging the appropriate uses for the card. 
  • Have an expenses log that must be filled out for each purchase. 
  • Reduce the number of bills coming into the caree’s home by having them forwarded to the person who can handle the finances.
  • Have bank statements sent directly to the person who will be monitoring accounts, not to the caree’s home where they can be ‘misplaced’ or ‘lost.’
  • Remove the need to have a debit card on hand by having a cash allowance and recording system for purchases and monitoring receipts.  
  • Write PLEASE CHECK ID above the signature on credit or debit cards. 
  • Plan monthly trips to help run the general shopping errands for personal items, reducing the number of trips a caregiver needs to make and fill Mom or Dad’s car up with gas so it’s ready for use.  (See Nugget Below)
Just establishing these practices, even if it seems like overkill, will send a message to any potential abuser that you and your loved one are not going to be easy targets.  

But isn’t this the person you are asking and trusting to care for your loved one? Yes. In the case noted above, it was the caree’s son who caught the funds missing from his mother’s accounts. Though the article didn’t say, it could be that his mother was receiving very good care for her physical and emotional well being and until the bank statement came in, there was no reason to suspect a problem. Again this reinforces the need to have someone financially trustworthy, and perhaps slightly removed from the immediate care situation, monitoring where money goes, when it goes, and for what purpose expenditures are made when the elderly are no longer able to do this for themselves.

If a new/potential hired caregiver truly has the best interests in their caree and their job, they won’t hesitate to sign contracts, review policies you establish, and be conscientious. If any potential hire, even from an agency, balks at the rules you establish, find someone else. 

There are times when it works well for a caregiver to have a debit card to a caree’s account; however, it is essential that a set of checks and balances be in place to monitor the situation. As mentioned last week, not even family members will be so conscientious and consider use of debit cards and cash left in wallets as ‘payment’ for their help. 

Finances in care situations should always be laid out clearly so that all parties involved are aware of expectations and boundaries. 
           
Golden Nugget for Caregivers:  Many times, hired caregivers use a caree’s car to drive him/her to doctors’ appointments or shopping. Two points to consider here.  First, the car needs gas. Think of either making sure the car is filled weekly/monthly yourself, or if the caregiver is allowed to use a card fill up the car, make sure you’re following up to verify that only the one car is being filled. Point Two: Check with your loved one’s insurance company to make sure there is coverage for a new driver or that the caregiver’s insurance will cover driving another person’s vehicle. Check the insurance limits to make sure that will not be a financial disaster waiting to happen.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Financial Abuse of the Aging - Part 1

Now we’ll get into the financial aspects of elder abuse which come on two fronts.  First we’ll tackle home base then we’ll get into the attacks from the outside world. 

We’ve all known people in our lives who are users. Whether they are also physical abusers, or not, they take advantage of situations and people around them for gain. Let’s face it - some of them are family members.      

 On the home front, a conscientious caregiver needs to talk to their aging loved one about finances. The sole purpose is for the caregiver to facilitate the caree’s wishes and long term security. If you’re getting involved for any other reason, please check your motivation. 
Unfortunately, some family members assume they should have control over a caree’s finances for the wrong reasons. There are also friends, when there are no family members available or willing who will step in and offer to “help.” Check everyone’s motivation. If you do not feel that your parent is being wise in his or her choice, talk about it. Family issues get sticky. But here are two points of fact that can help you take personalities out of the heavy issues.

  1. A person with a durable power of attorney can make financial claims. If that’s not someone you feel can trust to be around your wallet, make some changes.
One woman who was given durable power of attorney for her godmother called the credit card company asking to have a card issued to her on her godmother’s account. She offered to send a copy of the documents to the company. At the time, her godmother was just coming home from the hospital and was being cared for by an in-home caregiver. The goddaughter was not present but for infrequent visits, however, in love and trust, the power for delving into finances was given to her. Thankfully, the credit card company called the godmother who wisely told them no, she did not want her goddaughter to have a card. But A- the credit card company could have just accepted the goddaughter’s claim and B- the godmother might not have been well enough to have answered the call from the company and therefore accepted the goddaughter’s claim. 

  1. Checking accounts can and should have two people listed as account holders with the bank even if both names do not appear on the checks. It allows someone to pay another’s bills if that person becomes incapacitated. But remember, both people listed have authority to make withdrawls and transfers from the account. A person with a durable POA can do that too even if not listed on the account. When social security, pension, or other automatic deposits are made to an account all those who have access can get to that money.
There are plenty of cases where using/abusing adult family members prey upon the elderly.They move in or move near and ‘borrow’ often. Many offer to ‘help’ with such account setups then drain the family member dry. Others simply get the aged to turn over income checks to them in return for ‘services’ such as running errands. If you feel your aging loved one is being financially abused by another step in. Help him or her find a financial advisor, a counselor, or other outside party who can help determine the reality of the situation. This is where having a relationship with a banker who can offer advice and guide you is most helpful. It’s often that outside source who can help that person ‘see the light.’ It may mean that they learn how to tighten the reigns on accounts and access while setting up a per service amount for things that family member does for them, or they realize they need to restructure their finances to better serve their own long term financial security.

  1. Bankers can make notes (sometimes called flags) on accounts as to who may not have access to account information and money or when there is an issue of concern.
One caregiver knew a sibling with insecure finances was coming into town to visit their father while he was ill. She was concerned that her brother would try to access the parents’ bank accounts while there. Despite thinking all was set up properly, she took the extra precaution to alert the bank of the situation so that there was no question in her mind that the brother could not make a claim. 

In cases like family visits, it’s sad but true that sometimes financial documents like checks, bank account statements, and wallets (and purses)  need to be put away. Tell your loved one you have concerns and ask them to find a place they are secure with in ‘hiding’ their information. There should be a ‘safe’ person who knows where it is, but protection is key. It is difficult to bring these topics to the family table of discussion. In all likelihood, your loved one probably knows (or suspects) already and your support in finding solutions to potential problems will be a relief. Get it out in the open and deal with it before a family financial user becomes an abuser. 

The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse offers a great article about the financial abuse of the elderly. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

An Uncomfortable Topic....Part 3

Where do you call for help?
As difficult as this topic is, we have to realize that elder abuse happens.  If we raise our own level of awareness and that of others, my hope is that we can help someone in need.
           As the bruising example in the last post, suspicions of physical and/or sexual abuse may be complicated by underlying condition. Yet if suddenly an elderly patient is receiving medication for a sexually transmitted disease never before diagnosed, alarm bells should ring. Caregivers such as children who live at a distance from a parent who is in a care facility can monitor things such as medication changes and follow up with doctors. Some of the easiest victims of abuse (any kind) are the ones whose family members seem out of sight. But living at a distance doesn’t mean you can’t be involved and monitoring the care situation. Another sign of physical or sexual abuse may be bloody clothing or bedding. If an elderly resident’s clothing and bedding are always washed by the care facility, it is difficult to discover. It is also difficult if an abuser is a family member and the victim lives in their own home. The emotions tied to family abusers over cause the victim to protect the abuser more than himself or herself. This is where surprise visits are useful to both the local and long-distance caregiver. If family members live out of town, find someone you trust to make occasional check-ins with your loved one. A long distance caregiver can even hire a care agency to do independent evaluations of their loved ones and report back to the family members.

For the elderly in care facilities, each state offers ombudsman programs can help residents resolve suspicions or problems with care facilities. An ombudsman is an advocate for residents (and family members) to help ensure quality and “reasonableness (see last post)” of care. AARP has a great article that offers more details about the use of an ombudsman for ensuring safety of the elderly.
Unfortunately physical abuse of the elderly can happen at the hands of family members. In one  instance, a drug-addicted adult child moved back ‘home’ using his elderly mother’s apartment as his crash pad. He had no problems pushing or shoving her around and kicking her out of her own bed. She didn’t feel safe. What were her options? Often the elderly feel they have none and suffer extensive abuse before it is discovered, if ever. But there are shelters across the country beginning to address the needs of the elderly in such circumstances. Abuse in the home is domestic violence - a criminal offense. The police can be called in to address domestic violence cases against the elderly. Unfortunately, the mental image that comes to most minds for domestic violence is not an 80 year old great grandmother or great grandfather and many do not report abuse fearing they will not be taken seriously.

Thankfully, the need for specialized services for elderly victims of such are beginning to be identified and resources are becoming available. AARP shines a light on the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention located at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx, N.Y., the nation's first elder abuse shelter in a long-term care facility.             

As wonderful as it is, we have 49 states that do not have a Hebrew Home. Thankfully other such centers are being developed.  But how do you find them?            

If you suspect abuses such as the ones listed above or others, contact the Adult Protective Services agency in the victim’s community which is often connected with each state’s department of health and human services. 

  • The Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116) directs callers to senior information and referral telephone lines in their communities.
  • INFOLINK (800-FYI-CALL) directs callers to the closest, most appropriate services for victims of crime, including crisis intervention, assistance with the criminal justice process, counseling, and support groups.
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE [7233]) links callers to domestic violence shelters, other emergency shelters, legal advocacy and assistance programs, and social service programs.
Next Up:  Financial abuse and exploitation of the elderly.